Foodstuff: Making a real meal out of it |

Foodstuff: Making a real meal out of it

At a restaurant built on the cornerstone of happy hour, can a whole meal be greater than the sum of its discounted parts?

A spread of happy hour dishes at Aurum Aspen Snowmass in Snowmass Base Village includes lemon parmesan fries, vegan tomato soup, crispy curried cauliflower and fries with "bacon spice."
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

At Aurum Aspen Snowmass, the happy hour seems to be an act of benevolence as much as one for the bottom line: a way to attract and endear itself to locals, who in turn become vehicles of promotion for the restaurant serving classic American fare in Snowmass Base Village.

“The happy hour is sort of the draw for the locals and sort of something that they can consistently come back and count on,” said Phillips Armstrong, who helms the Destination Hospitality Group that owns and manages Aurum. “And therefore, then they turn and tell the tourists to come dine with us and that tourist might sit in the dining room, they might spend 100 bucks on a bottle of wine.”

“Hour,” there, is a loose interpretation of the unit, as it is most places that offer late-afternoon and early-evening dining specials: the offers run from 3-5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and from 3-6 p.m. every other day of the week, according to Aurum’s website.

As for what makes it “happy,” the perk-up comes in the form of half-off prices on draft beers and a nine-dish roster of substantially sized plates of “snacks” as well as soups and salads; there’s also a $10 cocktail menu and a smattering of $9 wines.

Armstrong considers it the “cornerstone” of the restaurant’s business model, which has proved successful so far in two other locations in Steamboat Springs (happy hour “certainly does really well” there) and Breckenridge (“we have people lined up out the door every day”), he said.

The vegan tomato soup at Aurum Aspen Snowmass in Snowmass Base Village.
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

Aurum Aspen Snowmass opened about two months ago, and though the launch has had its fits and bursts, Armstrong said he believes the happy hour is helping the spot gain traction at its location right across from the Village Express chairlift.

“I wouldn’t say it was instant, but … I think the happy hours are really starting to build,” Armstrong said. “We’re seeing more and more return guests and local faces.”

But whether such offerings substantiate a meal as much as they substantiate business was something I would need to see for myself.

Ever the sucker for a good gimmick when the idea well runs dry, I decided to test whether the list of discounted offerings — only one of which, a burger, would crack a double-digit price tag after the discount on a menu that also includes a $73 prime ribeye — could warrant a hearty meal of substance for two of the hungriest people I know: myself and my friend Mia, both self-identified bottomless pits.

I recruited Mia for this eating endeavor because our appetites are not easily sated by a single “snack” and because our standards for satisfying portions are often higher than the single-bite-sized dealings at some of the buzzier venues around town. Expecting more of the same small plates at Aurum, we went as all-out as seemed reasonable and ordered just about half of the happy hour menu.

What we found in front of us was a feast more than suitable for two rather ravenous eaters who had spent the better part of the day skinning Tiehack and then lapping Buttermilk to scope out the X Games.

Crispy curried cauliflower with shishito peppers at Aurum Aspen Snowmass in Snowmass Base Village.
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

The lineup that arrived was no tapas-sized taster: at an outdoor table that could easily have seated half a dozen diners with elbow room to spare, Mia and I had ordered enough to fill the surface end-to-end and then some.

Two plates of Aurum fries — one with lemon and parmesan for vegetarian me, one with “bacon spice” for dairy-free Mia — contained together enough crispy spuds to feed a starch-deprived family of four.

The crispy curried cauliflower defied my ambivalence toward broccoli’s blancher cousin and would have probably sufficed as the entree had we not also ordered the vegan tomato soup and a plate of Parker House rolls, a winning dipping combination if ever there was one. By the time the sun was setting, we had devoured enough to last us all the way through a night of X Games spectating and a drive down to Basalt and back, with leftovers to spare and a bill that totaled just a bit more than $25 per person before tax and tip, including a couple of teas.

The vegan tomato soup at Aurum Aspen Snowmass in Snowmass Base Village.
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

When I mentioned this effort to Armstrong in our interview, scheduled a couple of weeks after Mia and I successfully made a heck of a meal out of the happy hour menu, he noted that “it’s easy to do.”

The real challenge, I suppose, was one of self-preservation when Mia and I took one long, wistful and thorough glance at the dessert menu and realized we would need to forgo the sweets for the sake of spirit and stomach.

Aspen Times Weekly

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